Imagine the two-mile stretch of Broadway in Alamo Heights with a state-of-the art media library that blocks out the sound of traffic, or a farmer’s market and trails that connect neighborhoods with its residents. This is the future as imagined by a dozen students in the UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, and their project, titled “The Third Condition.”
Click here to read a more in-depth preview of “The Third Condition.”
Students led by Dr. Antonio Petrov, an assistant professor at UTSA’s School of Architecture , spent six months exploring the “Alamo Heights experience” and designing connections between existing infrastructure and places on Basse Road to the north and Hildebrand Avenue to the south. The result is a reimagined Broadway, a linear space that is much about creating connectivity in community as it is about serving as the municipality’s principal vehicle artery.
The students’ work was put to the test Wednesday night when Alamo Heights officials and residents were invited to view a 50-foot model of the Broadway Reach inside the Alamo Heights Fire Department. Those in attendance were invited to ask questions, offer feedback, and scroll through renderings and concepts presented digitally on iPad stations.
“What does Alamo Heights feel like?” Petrov asked the audience during the project unveiling.
Students had labored to answer this question for themselves by studying area demographics, interviewing residents and business owners, counting trees, sidewalks, parking lots, and mapping the individual and collective experiences, all bound together in a single book.
“It’s a very provocative identity because it’s so many things; Brackenridge Park is part of it, the Museum Reach is part of it,” Petrov said. “How far does it extend and does it go beyond jurisdictional boundaries?”
It’s a prescient observation. Many people assume Central Market and the University of Incarnate Word to the south and the Quarry Market and The Shops at Lincoln Heights to the north are in Alamo Heights. All are in the city of San Antonio.
“We didn’t just want to do another master plan,” Petrov said of the project. “Rather, we wanted to think how could architecture become the means to which we could start changing the city? How could architecture become a catalyst to help us change specific parts of Broadway and Alamo Heights that would feel more natural?”
The students always returned to the stark dividing line between “urban” and “non-urban” design in Alamo Heights. The space between the limits of urban and non-urban design is “the third condition,” an open-ended model meant to provoke new thoughts and discussion, and connect places and people rather than limit the possibilities to the present reality.
“The beauty of this project is that is designed by young people, so it makes sure get young people to the Alamo Heights area,” said Alamo Heights Councilwoman Lynda Billa-Burke, who helped connect the think-tank group with key community members throughout the project. “I really encourage you to look for the students and talk to them, because they’re still going and we hope that this is a project that keeps going.”
UTSA held a mini-colloquium earlier this semester, which invited Alamo Heights residents, City architects and urban designers to respond to the students’ model of “The Third Condition.”
“It felt a little awkward, and it was a risky move but we wanted to see how people responded to having this thing in front of them,” Petrov said. “It was at times an emotional debate. We could see there were also generational differences.”
Residents of all ages were present for the project unveiling. Some smiled and pointed at the stepping-stones, which the class proposed would connect different destinations and create a cultural center for Alamo Heights. A state-of-the art butterfly garden would offer a quiet respite and serve as an educational resource.
Some residents frowned at the LED displays that decorated the model’s buildings, but many residents were receptive to the concept of traveling between the neighborhoods and along Broadway without a vehicle.
“In 50 years, parking won’t be here,” said Petrov, as he introduced a parking structure that would be able to change with Alamo Heights’ changing needs in the coming decades. “We are changing from car town to a town for no cars.”
Senior Aaron Stone said the class had provided he and his fellow students an invaluable experience as future architects and designers.
“I honestly haven’t seen a project like this before,” Stone said of the experience. “I had only built my own structures, but never on such a large-scale. This required more compromise and collaboration, but everyone played their part.”
Stone said the experience was a confidence-builder for untested student designers.
“From the beginning, the residents have been invited to tell us what they think about the design, what works and what doesn’t. This is how real changes take place.”
“The Third Condition” model will be on public display again on Thursday at 6 p.m. inside Brick in the Blue Star Arts Complex, 1414 South Alamo Street. The project aims to draw more people into the process of neighborhood and city development, Petrov said.
“This project has a ways to go, but this proves that there is a new generation of people who interested in community action,” Petrov added.
*Top Image: Alamo Heights residents view “The Third Condition” model on Wednesday, Dec. 9,2015. Photo by Lea Thompson.